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Taiwan's Sub-launched Harpoons Pose New Challenge to China's Invasion Plans

Jan. 6, 2014 - 06:58PM   |  
By WENDELL MINNICK   |   Comments
More Firepower: The Hai Lung (Sea Dragon), one of Taiwan's two Dutch-built submarines, will be armed with Harpoon II anti-ship cruise missiles.
More Firepower: The Hai Lung (Sea Dragon), one of Taiwan's two Dutch-built submarines, will be armed with Harpoon II anti-ship cruise missiles. (Wendell Minnick)
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TAIPEI — Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has acknowledged the Navy took delivery last year of long-awaited submarine-launched Harpoon Block II anti-ship cruise missiles, a new complication to any Chinese invasion plans.

The delivery included 32 UGM-84L encapsulated all-up rounds, two UTM-84L exercise missiles and two UTM-84XD certification and training rounds, said Fu Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center.

These will be divided between Taiwan’s two Dutch-built diesel-electric attack subs, the 793 Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) and the 794 Hai Hu (Sea Tiger), acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s. Taiwan also has two World War II-vintage Guppy-class subs used only for training, but sources said neither has been at sea for years.

Though Taiwan has a wide array of anti-ship cruise missiles, including land-based and ship-launched Hsiung Feng 2/3 missiles, and ship-launched and air-launched Harpoons, the submarine-launched Harpoons will give it a greater opportunity to stealthily strike Chinese targets, including land-based coastal targets.

The “L” designation on the UGM-84L indicates it has a littoral suppression capability that allows limited coastal target attack, such as upon ships inside a harbor, harbor infrastructure, power grids, invasion staging grounds, and command-and-control centers, a Taiwan defense industry source said.

“In this sense, the introduction of the sub Harpoon could be seen as providing Taiwan with a small measure of asymmetric counterforce capability,” Fu Mei said.

The Harpoons incorporate the inertial measurement unit of the joint direct attack munition, as well as the software, mission computer and GPS/inertial navigation system from the standoff land attack missile-expanded response, the Taiwan defense industry source said.

The Harpoons will allow Taiwanese submarines to strike targets farther north and south along China’s coastline. This would include Shanghai, Zhoushan, Xiazhen and Sandu in the north, and Shantou, Zhanjiang and the new nuclear submarine based at Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island to the south.

“The sub-Harpoon capability will certainly be meaningful in a cross-strait conflict, particularly one involving an amphibious invasion scenario,” Fu Mei said.

The missile’s nominal maximum range of 150 nautical miles would substantially expand potential targets for Taiwan’s submarines, which are limited to about 30,000 yards, or about 15 nautical miles, by their SUT torpedoes.

“That is a roughly 100-fold increase in the area that could be covered by each submarine so armed,” Fu Mei said.

The threat posed by such capabilities would further complicate the fleet air defense problems faced by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, (PLAN) which already has to deal with Taiwan’s arsenal of domestic and imported anti-ship missiles.

“The ability to detect, quickly track, designate and assign weapons to engage pop-up targets like submarine-launched [anti-ship cruise missiles] will now be an even more essential requirement for PLAN’s shipboard integrated air defense and combat direction systems,” Fu Mei said.

The main integration challenge Taiwan’s Navy has faced is developing a long-range targeting capability to fully exploit the missile’s range.

Over the past decade, Taiwan has been working to integrate a data link terminal on its two Dutch submarines so they can receive targeting data from offboard sensors and shore-based command-and-control facilities while underway. The terminal would use a mast-mounted antenna that could be raised with the sub running at periscope depth. This is believed to be tested and operational, sources said.

The data link feeds into the advanced harpoon weapons control system (AHWCS), though the latter is apparently not integrated with the combat direction system of the Dutch submarines, Fu Mei said. The AHWCS can direct complex Harpoon missile attacks, including way-pointing and simultaneous arrivals of multiple missiles from different axes.

The normal load of torpedoes on each sub will be sacrificed for more missiles, but sources said the tradeoff will force China to rethink its invasion plans.

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